Last week I went to Nablus and Tulkarem for field research with two co-workers. It's been hot here over the past month, but this day was...ungodly. Hair sticking to the nape of your neck, sweaty thighs, damp denim, muddy sandal soles, melting fingernails hot.
We were returning to Ramallah late in the afternoon when we pulled into an Israeli army checkpoint outside a nearby settlement. (Checkpoints are set up within the West Bank near settlements and outposts. They're also at the entrance and exits to Area A, which are the only sections of the West Bank under total Palestinian Authority control). These days, driving through checkpoints is fairly simple. I'd say that seven out of 10 times you're not stopped. But sometimes shared taxis and buses are pulled over and everyone has to show their I.D. And sometimes private cars are pulled over and searched. More often than not this is random, but if someone in the car has an I.D. showing they've been in jail (a huge number of Palestinian males have been in an Israeli military prison at some point in their lives and a large portion of the children that are arrested and held are charged with throwing a stone), or raise another type of red flag, they are nabbed right then and there. This day, the checkpoint was moving very slowly, and when we arrived, the soldiers had taken someone from their car.
A teenage boy stood next to the van in front of us, a broad-shouldered soldier was shouting at him in Hebrew and broken Arabic. Looking at the kid, at his posture, I immediately thought of the way boys in highschool used to walk when being escorted out of Boltwood by a security guard after breaking one of about 1,000 ridiculous rules they had in that Freshman cafeteria. They'd have this stupid looking swagger and slumped shoulders meant to convey that they didn't give a shit, but kind of shifty eyes that gave away the fact that they were probably worried what their moms would have to say about it.
After about two minutes of yelling at the kid, the soldier lunged towards him, grabbing the front of his shirt and yanking him in, closer. He pulled the boy towards a small, circular, single room building. It looked about big enough to fit three grown men, had one door and frosted, dirty windows. The soldier released the boys t-shirt and shoved him in the chest, pushing him towards the door.
Any veneer of cool or calm the kid had managed to convey earlier vanished. His body tensed, he tripped a bit, and he began shouting. He even backed away from the soldier, away from the door and back towards the cars a bit. The soldier didn't move, he simply looked at him, one hand holding the door open, the other resting lightly on the automatic weapon strapped across his chest. The boy moved forward, and as soon as he was within reach of the soldier, was shoved inside by the back of his neck. Another soldier moved towards the room and closed the door. We looked at the windows and could see the silhouettes of the two people inside, their faces about one inch away from each other. Then a scrawny looking soldier, face tomato-red from the sun, waved us forward and we drove back to Ramallah.